The vote in the Assembly will be taken on a cross-community basis. This means that, in order for it to be passed, it must have the support of either;
(a) a majority of the members voting, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting; or,Given that Sinn Féin support is guaranteed, and they hold a majority of the nationalist seats (61%, excluding Gerry McHugh who has left the party), the issue is whether the unionist side can make up the numbers.
(b) 60 per cent of the members voting, 40 per cent of the designated Nationalists voting and 40 per cent of the designated Unionists voting.
In order to pass the vote under (a), if the UUP insist on voting against the transfer, the DUP will need to ensure that 27 of their 36 members vote for the proposal. Excluding the Speaker, the DUP's William Hay (who cannot vote), and including the PUP's Dawn Purvis, means the DUP will need to get at least 26 of their MLAs on board.
Under (b) the task may be a little easier, if the support of the SDLP can be counted on. The SDLP and Sinn Féin together have 43 seats, and 60% of the 108 MLAs is 65. If Dawn Purvis can be counted on, the DUP will have to ensure 21 votes, which would make 40% of the 'unionists voting', and, allied to the nationalists, over 60% of the total members voting.
Ironically, at the time of the Hillsborough Agreement, 21 votes was just about all the Peter Robinson could count on! In its (confidential) discussions before the Hillsborough Agreement, "up to 14 DUP members – including MPs such as Campbell and Dodds – expressed disquiet over the vagueness of that part of the package concerning loyalist concerns over the marching season.". According to Gerry Adams "Peter Robinson brought the outcome of those discussions to his Assembly group and recommended that they accept what he agreed with us. It was put to a vote which he won by 22 to 14."
So tomorrow offers the DUP dissidents – and by extension the TUV – an enormous opportunity. If the dissidents stand together they can combine with the UUP – if they actually do oppose the transfer – and defeat it. This would provide a huge boost to the rejectionist unionist position, and would probably bring Peter Robinson down. It would be a propaganda victory of mythical proportions for Jim Allister, who may then be well placed to don the mantle of true leader of 'traditional unionism'.
However, the UUP may soon put paid to any fantasies that Allister may have by deciding to support the transfer, thus rendering any DUP dissent pointless and counter-productive. There will be many people in the DUP who will be watching the outcome of today's UUP executive discussions very closely. A climb-down by the UUP – already quite likely in the light of yesterday's opinion poll – would ruin Allister's hopes of coalescing a blocking minority of MLAs around his 'charismatic' leadership, and in one fell swoop creating a TUV presence in the Assembly. It is not an exaggeration to say that tomorrow's vote could either raise the TUV to a higher level, or consign it to continued irrelevance.